Public radio offers many opportunities to get your music covered, especially if you can find a cultural angle or are part of the local scene.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
Building on our posts about getting played on commercial and college radio, this post focuses on how to get your song on the radio. While it may be more difficult to break into satellite radio, there are clever ways to get on public radio as an independent musician.
Similar to college radio, both of these are competitive outlets with many label-backed artists vying for attention and plays. Because of this, if you’re just starting out, you’re probably better off beginning with college radio to build up some on-airplay history before trying this category.
Public radio tends to be a one-and-done airplay option, so it’s more of a publicity play than a way to reach a lot of people for a long period of time. If you get played on public radio, make sure to add it to your bio and make it part of your story. Because public radio airplay tends to take a more cultural angle on what they choose to highlight, your own personal story and bio can promote the artistic angle of your music, especially if you’re part of the scene in your region.
There are numerous public radio opportunities available.
Local NPR culture shows
Most regions have shows on their public radio stations that cover local culture. Starting local is the best way to get played on NPR, and that can go national. In fact, NPR’s Live Sessions aggregates the best performances from local stations. To get covered, research your local public radio shows, since each has its own music submission mechanism. Note that some want live performances and others just want recorded music. For example, in Chicago, where we’re from, there is Vocalo Radio, which accepts submissions for recorded music.
All Songs Considered
All Songs Considered is the music arm of All Things Considered, and music and segments from it are syndicated across all NPR stations. To submit, send an email to email@example.com with the subject line, “Please consider my music.” Include a link to your music and basic info with your name and a few sentences about your background in a brief message. They don’t give status updates, so it’s more of a one-and-done attempt at getting your music heard. They get hundreds of submissions a day, so this is very competitive.
Tiny Desk Concerts contest
Tiny Desk Concerts have long been a staple of NPR, with some epic performances by major artists. More recently, a contest was launched that is only available to unsigned artists who want to perform. To get in, upload a music video to YouTube with you performing an original song (no samples allowed!) in front of a desk. They have many requirements for this, so submit to the Tiny Desk Contest by following the directions in the FAQ. Winning gets you publicity and the chance to perform in front of the NPR audience.
Public radio podcasts
There are over a dozen public radio music podcasts which feature music. These are independently run, and you should check out their home pages to see how they select their music. Most are curated from sources like local music venues or music projects, so you’ll need to research each one related to your style of music to see if there’s an opportunity for you.
Before you begin, you’ll want the following at-the-ready:
- Links to your music. Most of the public or commercial radio stations want you to send a link to your music so they can play it, and this should include places like YouTube, Spotify, or other streaming options so that they can just click-and-listen.
- CDs with your music. If you are submitting to satellite radio, you’ll need CDs with your music to send it to them.
- MP3s & WAVs. You’ll need high-quality, mastered, high-bitrate, release-ready MP3s and WAVs of your music ready to send to these outlets upon request. Note that some stations might have specific format requirements, so be prepared to create these if necessary.
- Short bio and picture. You’ll want a few sentences available as a bio since these stations typically ask you to keep it brief. If you’re submitting a press kit to satellite radio, include a bio, picture, and background to go along with it.
- Simple tracking system (spreadsheet). You’ll need to keep track of who, where, and when you sent your music and any supporting material (press/media materials such as a fact sheet or your bio). A simple spreadsheet works fine, such as Google Sheets (which is free).
There are rotations for satellite radio to get regular play, but these are usually locked up by major labels. Plus, the method to get on these rotations is generally hidden from the public, so it’s mainly listed here so you can be aware of it. If your music reaches major-label popularity and you have a bigger bankroll, it might be a good target for you.
Although major-label music is more likely to get played, there are two satellite radio options you can pursue.
Satellite radio rotation
SiriusXM has a music and programming department that can accept submissions to get music in rotation. It’s a postal address, so you’ll have to send a physical copy of your music. There are no submission guidelines mentioned, which means they are likely focused on getting music through people they have a personal or business relationship with.
Satellite radio shows
Satellite radio has hundreds of shows played across their stations, and their producers or DJs might be interested in music that matches the format. Each one might have its own webpage, so you can reach out to and submit music to see if they’re interested. This is very similar to the same process you might do for commercial or college radio stations, which means you should make sure your music matches their shows. And it helps to get to know what kind of entertainment and audience they target so you can make a music submission that might get taken seriously.
How to make money
You make money from all of these radio sources via royalties, specifically via your composition PRO for the songwriter and publisher, as well as via SoundExchange when they stream over the internet. If you haven’t signed up for these, get this done first so you can get paid. In fact, make sure any new music you submit is registered properly for all royalties available to you. Do you want to know more about music licensing services? For more detailed info about how royalties work and how to protect your music and ensure you get all the money that’s owed you, see the “Licensing and Royalties” chapter of our book, Making Money With Music.
Organize your efforts
Once you have royalties set up and have your music and bio ready to go, here’s how you can get played on each of these types of commercial radio outlets.
Submit your music to your targeted list
Once you’ve done your research, completed your target list, and updated your spreadsheet, it’s time to start submitting (and adding the dates of when you submitted to your spreadsheet). Be sure to follow their instructions, since bypassing their process or not providing required info could wind up losing you the opportunity.
Keep tabs of the submissions
After submitting, keep track of the responses in your spreadsheet. Some are automated systems, but if a person gets back to you, be sure to use good PR techniques to increase the likelihood of being played. But note, some of them, including All Songs Considered, don’t want follow-ups.
After being played, send a “thank you” message and track the plays
Unless you are doing an in-person performance, you may never know when you were played! Being featured on a show or added to the rotation doesn’t mean anyone at the station will reach out to tell you. In fact, it’s more likely you won’t know if your new music was played unless you listen to each radio station or they mention you on the webpages for their shows. Either way, create search alerts with your artist name and the name of the songs submitted. You can do this with services like Google Alerts.
What to do once you’re played
When you catch that you’ve been played, do the following:
- Share on social media. When you see you’ve been played, don’t forget to share the news with your fans on social media.
- Send thank-you’s and update your spreadsheet. Don’t forget to send a thank you to the radio station or show host/producer if you have established direct communication with them. They become part of your press lists for future releases.
- Ladder up. If you get played, be sure to publicize it and use the success as a reason to ladder up and reach out to other places you’ve been submitting to who haven’t responded back or played you yet. It’s proof people like and play your new music.
Authors of the critically-acclaimed modern classic, The Indie Band Survival Guide, Billboard Magazine called Randy Chertkow and Jason Feehan “the ideal mentors for aspiring indie musicians who want to navigate an ever-changing music industry.” Their latest book, Making Money With Music (Macmillan) and free Making Money With Music Newsletter, help all musicians — from startups to pros — build a sustainable music business so you can make money in today’s tech-driven music environment.
How to get your music played on college radio
How to get played on commercial radio
Build Your Music Career One Small Success At A Time
Writing an informational band bio — 9 tips
Are you ready for Music PR?